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The July Jazz Scene

Ed Shaughnessy: 1929-2013. In all probability, the percussion world will never see the likes of an Ed Shaughnessy again.  Shaughnessy, who died in May at the age of 84, was astonishing in his versatility, having played with everyone from Charlie Mingus and Count Basie to Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix.  And he was comfortable with them all.   

Ringo Starr may have been more famous and Buddy Rich more showmanly, but no drummer in history was as visible as the man nicknamed “Shaun.”  He joined the Tonight Show band in 1963, not long after Johnny Carson came aboard, and stayed with that group until Carson left the airwaves 29 years later.  Think about the concept of playing for several acts—rock, jazz, comedy, country, Latin, classical, dancers, singers, jugglers, magicians and you name it-- every night, five nights a week and for 29 years.  And all, pun intended, without missing a beat.

In those years and by his own admission, Shaun only had real differences with one performer, that being the notoriously prickly Ray Charles.

Through it all, he did everything with grace, confidence and good humor.  Young players were important to him, and in that regard, he was one of the first drummers to become heavily involved in jazz education as a clinician.  He was something of a pioneer as well.  Along with Louie Bellson, Shaun was among the first to use two bass drums as a part of the standard drum set-up, and was an early student of what is now called “world music.”  He evolved constantly.  It could never be said that history passed him by.

His roots were in jazz, and those roots were never forgotten, no matter what the gig was.  A Philadelphian, saxophonist Charlie Ventura, gave Shaun his first “name” job in 1948.  In the years leading up to his spot in Tonight Show band, there was hardly an artist he did not play behind.  The list is extraordinary, and included Basie, Mingus, Teddy Charles, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey.  Basie loved him so much that he had Shaun record a good half-dozen albums with his band, during a time when the Count’s drum chair was unsettled.

Ed Shaughnessy was a friend.  He confided not too long ago, that one of the few wishes he had was that the famed “Ed Shaughnessy versus Buddy Rich drum battle” that was performed on the Tonight Show in the late 1970s could be discovered and released commercially, just so his family could see it.  It took some doing, but this fascinating clip—now all over YouTube—first appeared in the Hudson Music DVD, “Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles.”  He was, thank goodness, fortunate enough to see the publication of his charming and touching autobiography, “Lucky Drummer,” which came out last year. Above all, Ed Shaughnessy was a man who cared.  When you listened to him, you could tell.

Free Jazz Notes. Jazz Bridge is partnering with the Friends of Hawthorne Park to present “Jazz at Hawthorne Park, a free summer concert series at 12th and Catharine Streets in Philadelphia on the third Thursday of every month this summer. Bring a chair and prepare get groovy with the Mike Boone/John Swana Project—Boone is on bass and Swana on trumpet-- on June 20th, the Renaissance Quartet with bassist Tyrone Brown on July 18th, drummer Webb T's Fleet on August 15th, and vocalist Venissa Santi's Quartet on September 19th. These performers are all at the top echelon of the Greater Delaware Valley’s jazz community, the park is lovely and the music will be swinging.  All of the concerts begin at 7 p.m.  For info: 215-517-8337  or visit Jazzbridge.org/events/sponsored-partnerships.

Playing for a Higher Authority. Jazz and the clergy have a long had and special association.  Pastor John Gensel, counselor and spiritual advisor to many a jazz musician, was known for years as “the jazz priest.”  Father Norman J O’Connor hosted a New York city-based television program for years called “Dial M for Music” that featured the world’s most famous players.  Then, of course, there were Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts.  Locally, there are at least a half-dozen regular Jazz Vespers programs being presented steadily.   

One of the most active participants in the “jazz meets the clergy” area was the late Warren Davis, Jr. Reverend Davis, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 79.  For years, he was the Rector at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Gladwyne, and also a jazz pianist with firm roots in the swing era.  Davis founded a jazz group called “The Gabriels” who performed often at churches and other venues in the area.  The legacy of “The Gabriels” happily continues with bassist Vince Long, saxophonist Art Lord, guitarist Ron Parker (also a retired priest who, earlier in his career, played guitar behind some pretty big names), and drummer John Ciliberto.  “The Gabriels” recently played, for the fourth time, at the Greenwich Library in Gibbstown, NJ, at the Logan Township Library in Logan Township, NJ, and will soon play Swedesboro Library in Swedesboro, NJ.  Hear them if you can.

Peter Nero: Conquering Jazz Hero. Peter Nero has wasted no time in getting his post-Philly Pops career in gear, and we expected nothing less.  His last Pops performance in Philadelphia was on May 12, and after a summers’ rest, he’ll be off and running with a more-than-full calendar of performances beginning with his tour kick-off on September 21 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center at George Mason University in Manassas, VA.   Dates follow way into next year, with performances  at Lehman College in the Bronx on October 26, with the University of Las Vegas Jazz Orchestra on November 2, at Folsom Lake College on Folsom, CA on November 12 and 13, and other locales throughout the country until, right now anyway, June 14, 2014.  Philadelphia blew it by letting this giant get away and Maestro and those handling his bookings know it, so the closest he’ll get to this town will be in New Brunswick, NJ at the State Theater on February 14, and at the Easton, PA State Theatre on June 14, 2014.  There was some early talk about Nero conducting the Pops here on July 4, as he did for many years.  Don’t count on it.  

Jazz Airwaves. Observant readers may have noticed that, beginning with last month’s issue, WRTI radio has joined the pages of ICON as a media partner. Careful listeners may also noticed that, from time to time,  ICON is being promoted on WRTI. It’s a great match, in that WRTI and ICON both stand for and promote the cause of both classical music and jazz.  We’re proud to have this association.  

Brownie Finally Speaks. Don Glanden of the University of the Arts has been working tirelessly on a documentary film about the late and great trumpeter and Wilmington native, Clifford Brown, for what seems like decades.  Meticulously researched and detailed, and featuring the only known film in existence of “Brownie,” we’ve been told that the docu, “Brownie Speaks” is being readied for commercially release in the fall.  To keep up to date on the progress of the DVD and to access some of the interview clips, visit the “Brownie Speaks” Facebook page. Glanden has also informed that one of his recently-graduated students, the Korean pianist/vocalist E.J. Park, is now at work on her own CD.  A sample can be seen and heard on YouTube.

July Jamming. Those who maintain that July is an off month for jazz in these parts are just not aware of the whole picture.  Here’s just a sampling:  The Young Lions of Gypsy Jazz at the Sellersville Theater 1894 on July 2, guitarist Alex Bartlett and bassist Mike Boone at center city’s Happy Rooster on July 3, Jazz Night at the Prism Brewery in North Wales on Thursdays throughout the month, innovative bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s rescheduled CD release party at the World Café’ Live on July 12, saxophone fiends Larry McKenna and Bootsie Barnes in concert at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in center city on July 21 which will also feature drummer Ed Dennis’ quartet, a birthday party concert for Professor Larry at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on July 26, guitarist Phyllis Chapell and SIORA in a free concert in Pastorious Park on July 24, something called the Jazz Celebration Big Band at Newton’s Temperance House on July 25, blues legend Buddy Guy at the Keswick Theater on July 31.  And joining the already crowded jam session fray is the venerable and ageless Bethlehem non-profit, Godfrey Daniels.  GD calls their session an “Old Time Jam.”  It happens every Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m.  For information on all their eclectic events, visit GodfreyDaniels.org.   For complete information on times, dates, performers bios and admission information on all of the above, , visit AllAboutJazz.com and click on “Jazz Near You.”  This is an invaluable web site that has become an essential “jazz natural resource” for the city of Philadelphia and way beyond. Have a gig?  Let the world know.  Send an email to “The Jazz Scene” at DrumAlive@aol.com.

This article is from the July 2013 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.